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Two face murder rap after beating

Murdered man defended brother in assault at home

Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2000

A Juneau man died from head injuries sustained after trying to help his brother, who was beaten in a $20 robbery, according to prosecutors.

Some relatives and friends of Kenneth Thomas, who was beaten unconscious in the robbery Tuesday morning, learned of his death when the two suspects were arraigned Wednesday afternoon on murder charges.

One woman hugged a family member, cried out ``Oh God,'' and sobbed afterward in the Dimond Courthouse lobby.

Thomas, 36, was pronounced dead at 12:25 p.m. Wednesday at Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. Police requested an autopsy.

Thomas was on a life-support machine, said family member Michele Nelson. Doctors took him off the machine at one point, but saw signs of brain activity and put him back on, she said.

 

Looking on: Alfred Torres leaves the courtroom after the arraignment of two men charged with killing his brother Kenneth Thomas and assaulting him.

MICHAEL PENN / THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

Thomas' brother, Alfred Torres, 27, also was injured Tuesday in the incident near Willoughby Avenue. He attended the arraignment in Juneau District Court with one arm in a sling and wearing a brace around his torso.

Ronald E. Smith, 33, and Rey Joel Soto, 20, were each charged Wednesday with second-degree murder in the death of Thomas, first-degree assault in the beating of Torres, and second-degree robbery.

The murder charge carries a maximum penalty of 99 years, and the two other charges are punish able by up to 20 years in prison each.

The two accused men, who are in custody at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center, showed no emotion in court. Soto frequently looked at the crowd of victims' relatives and friends, who squatted in the aisle, lined the walls and formed a knot around the door.

``They want to see them put away,'' Nelson said.

The district attorney's office gave its version of the incident in affidavits filed in court to support the charges:

Torres, who was conscious after the attack, told police two men wearing ski masks came to his trailer Tuesday morning. One carried a baseball bat, the other had a shotgun.

Torres told police he was immediately struck in the head with a shotgun, then pulled outside and hit again. Thomas ran out to help Torres and was hit in the head with the bat and fell to the ground unconscious.

Torres tried to run, he told police, but the man carrying the shotgun forced him into the trailer.

The two assailants entered the trailer and demanded money, according to the prosecutor's affidavit. When Torres protested he had no money, they hit him with the bat and hit him in the mouth with the gun. Torres gave them all the money he had - $20.

Another man in the trailer told police one assailant asked Torres for marijuana and money. When Torres said he didn't have any, one man hit him with a bat. Torres then gave the man his wallet and a small amount of marijuana in a plastic Bartlett Regional Hospital mug, according to the prosecutor's affidavit. The two intruders then left.

The witness ran to a neighbor's home and asked for help.

As the neighbor was driving Torres and Thomas to the hospital, Torres believed he saw the suspects' vehicle, and the neighbor wrote down the license plate number. They drove to the police station to report it and continued to the hospital.

Police stopped the car, containing Smith and Soto, a few minutes later. The officer saw a baseball bat, smeared with a red substance ``which appears to be blood,'' and two ski masks, according to the prosecutor's affidavit.

After getting search warrants, police found bloodstained money in the suspects' pockets and a Bartlett mug in the car, the affidavit said.

Magistrate John Sivertsen Jr. set Smith's bail at $750,000 cash, and Soto's at $500,000 cash. They would have to come up with all of that money to be released to a third-party custodian.

Assistant District Attorney Sue McLean said Smith has three prior convictions for burglary in New York State. One of those was reduced from a robbery charge, she said.

Smith and Soto told Sivertsen they would hire their own attorneys. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 4.

One of the victims' cousins said Wednesday that Thomas, who was unemployed, was a quiet man.

``He wasn't out there giving anybody a bad time. He kept to himself . . . a good gentleman,'' the cousin said. ``He's the type of person who wouldn't hurt anybody.''

The cousin wouldn't give his full name because he lives near Willoughby Avenue and is concerned about his family's safety.

``I'm going to make a point of going to some of the people I know in the area and ask them to stick together. There could be copycats out there,'' he said.



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